Today’s Food Newsbits: Hawaii To Ban Shark Fin; Restaurant Industry Holds Steady in 2010


Even though locavore chef Alice Waters was singled out for her shark fin soup comment at last year’s Food For Thought forum, it is still a dish widely favored by many around the world. Many species of shark have long been endangered, but shark fin has remained a highly valued ingredient in Asian food culture, even in the United States.

In an pioneering move last week, the state of Hawaii signed into legislation a bill that will remove shark fin soup from every menu in the state, with a new law banning shark fin possession of any kind. According to Time, the groundbreaking bill has been met with mixed reviews widely because of the use of shark fin in restaurant dishes, with local restaurateurs concerned that the law will impact culinary traditions on the islands.

Something will be missing,” said [restaurateur Vienna] Hou, who grew up watching her father sell shark fin as part of his seafood trading business in Hong Kong. “Decent Chinese restaurants — they all serve shark fin.”

Conservationists and lawmakers, however, are encouraged by the ban, including Senator Clayton Hee, who sponsored the bill and argued that shark fin soup is “an indulgent activity.”

“This is a landmark bill,” said Marie Levine, the founder and executive director of the Shark Research Institute in Princeton, N.J. “This is enormously important for the conservation of sharks.”

The bill, which will go into effect July 2011, will prohibit the “possession, sale or distribution of shark fins” with fines up to $50,000 and a year in jail for multiple offenses.

Analysts are watching the industry like hawks to determine if diners are returning to their favorite eateries. For the second month in a row, Nation’s Restaurant News is reporting that growth continues in the restaurant industry, with operators reporting fewer pay cuts and salary freezes.

According to a recent survey conducted by the publication:

  • Less than a quarter of survey respondents had plans to close locations, compared with 43% who were anticipating closures this time last year.
  • Only 12% will reduce management this year, with 35% implementing layoffs last year.
  • 50% of respondents have plans to reduce food costs, with 42% looking to reduce labor costs as well.

You can read more on the survey here at the NRN website. Blogger Bill McBride at Calculated Risk notes that it’s a good start, but we’ll have to see the trend for more than a few months to determine if restaurants are finally out of the recession.

~Jennifer Heigl